When I was a younger mom, I tried my hardest to make sure my kids were always clean and well-dressed. That was my job, I felt. I was their mom and I was supposed to be taking care of them, and taking care of them meant they would be neat and clean and well-mannered and practically perfect in every way.
Even though we struggled seriously financially in the first (many) years of marriage, and my kids didn't have the finest clothes or shoes, bathing them and putting them in clean clothes didn't cost me anything. They were my world, my vocation, and I was always self-conscious that people would judge me if my crew looked like a bunch of ragamuffins. So I spent my days tidying and cleaning and wiping and cleaning some more.
Playing with my kids? Well there wasn't much time for that. Besides, they had each other, and as long as I could control the level of mess, I was being a good mom. Finished playing with one toy? Put it away before taking out another. Painting? You'll do that in preschool. Every night was bath night, and every day they were dressed in fresh clean clothes.
Fast forward a few more kids and some mom growth and release of control, and while I'm still a bit of a neat freak when it comes to making sure my kids look put together in public (we need to be a good example that big families are normal and fun and have it together!) I have come to appreciate a messy face.
We took a family walk the other night to an ice cream store, and on the way home, Alexander asked to get out of the double jogger and walk with me. I took him out, grabbed his sticky, dirty hand and he smiled so big at me with his messy chocolate face. I thought, yes, this was a great day, as perfectly evidenced by his adorable, dirty face.
A messy face doesn't always equal an inattentive mom, as I had previously thought. It actually means I was more attentive to doing the things they wanted to do, letting them be kids and relaxing enough to enjoy it with them. At the end of the day, messy kids = happy hearts. And then they go straight to the bath, and mom's heart is happy too :)